Thursday, April 12, 2007

19. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted cover pictureI took this one out from the Library. It's a story about a group of people, each who has responded to an ad for a writer's retreat where they are promised to be taken out of their lives and given the chance to finally focus on writing. What actually happens is that they end up locked in a deserted old theatre with no way out. All the doorways and windows have been sealed in with brick. They have freeze-dried food to last several months, heating, running water and a place to sleep. However, instead of writing or trying to escape, they become obsessed with figuring out a way to turn what is happening to them into fame and fortune.

It's hard to say if it's because each character is so damaged and screwed in the first place or if it is Palahniuk's critique of modern society, but they begin to destroy each other and themselves in their efforts to be the one who suffered the most in this terrible crime. So they start poking holes in the food bags so the food will rot, destroying the plumbing, the heating and the washing machine, mutilating themselves.

The story is structured so that every third chapter is the progress of the narrative in the theatre. After that is a short poem about each character and after that is a short story by and about that character, revealing their pasts, what brought them to this writer's retreat. In effect, it is a short-story collection wrapped into a greater narrative. The stories themselves were for me the best part. There are some truly disturbing, crazy ideas here. The first story is so grotesque, so over the top that I was actually laughing hysterically out loud while reading it. It is far and away the most nuts masturbation story I have ever heard. There are several other moments in the book that were truly shocking. Yet somehow they don't seem to be shocking for shock's sake. They seem genuine. Nonetheless, still very disturbing.

I am not so positive about the overall narrative. Unlike Diary, there didn't seem to be an overarching explanation or revelation for what was going on or why. It was more thematic and metaphorical and I found that a bit unsatsifying. Also, there was no real development or arc for all the characters, once things got really rough. It's also a bit long. There are a lot of characters.

Still, this is probably the most disturbing and shocking thing I have read in a long time, which is saying something. Palahniuk doesn't pull any punches and he doesn't apologize. If that sort of thing appeals to you, I strongly recommend it. If you are looking for a more solid narrative, then maybe Diary might be a better choice. If you really want to be freaked out and not commit to the whole book, I recommend just reading the first short-story by Saint Gut Free, it's called "Guts". You could probably find it in the bookstore. It's short and really blew my mind.

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